Damsel Flies

Often over looked by fly fisher is the damsel fly, a seasonal staple in many waters for foraging trout. Although it doesn’t garner the attention of mayfly, caddis, and salmonfly hatches, vacations aren’t planned around its emergence; it is still an integral part of many a trout’s diet. Perhaps, even more importantly fishing these imitations produces large fish and quick hard strikes.

It is not that fly fishers don’t notice damsel flies, in fact they are very hard to miss, at least the adult ones are. Confusing damsels with dragonflies is a common enough mistake, but in actuality everyone can easily tell the difference. For one thing damsels are smaller, more colorful, and more common. Their wings also have the ability to lie flat. The adult damsels body color i range in color from blue, to tan, to olive, males usually being the more colorful.

The damsel fly nymph, are long (usually and inch to inch and a half), and are easily identified by their bead like eyes, and the three broad tail like gills. Nymphs are voracious carnivores, and live predominantly in weed beds, in slow water. Common thought has them only of importance in lakes, but their numbers, size and heartiness make them important in many rivers as well.

The nymphs are climbers, spending most of their time on vegetation, fulfilling their vast appetite. They live about a year going through up to 12 molts. Emerging is actually done on land. This requires them to swim to shore, to climb out on vegetation or debris. By this time they have well developed wing pads. Their emergence on can be en masse or can occur sporadically over a period of months. Huge emergences mean large numbers of swimming nymphs eagerly pursued by foraging trout. These types of emergences occur mostly in lakes, where the nymphs are not separated by faster currents of water, and can be the premier time to fish at many locales.

When fishing the damsel fly nymph, it is important to impart the same movement of your fly. Getting the waggle is the name of the game. Big Y Fly Co damsel nymphs tied with lifelike marabou, help tremendously, and using a slow hand-twist retrieve with pauses should entice a greedy strike or two. The naturals are slow swimmers when compared to trout, and often pause motionless during their migration to adulthood.

Still fishing is also effective, with just an occasional tug. Vary the thrust, and duration until you find the perfect combination that attracts the fish. The idea is to imitate an insect at rest.

The adult damsel is the source of much debate. While its presence in the water shallows is not disputed its value in the trout’s is. Much of it depends on where you’re fishing, alternative food sources available, and what the damsel is actually doing. One thing is clear that damsel’s actually lay their eggs underwater, sometimes emerging only to do it again, and sometimes not. Spent damsels are definitely a food source, and if you are fishing late fall their penchant for laying eggs this time of year, can cause trout to focus in on them.

There are other times when their ever near presence makes them a logical choice for the dry fly fisher. No trout skulking in the weed beds would actively refuse an adult placed there for the taking. If fishing ponds of bass or bluegill, then a well placed damsel will cause an eruption.

Setting your calendar to this insect is difficult at best; while they are prolific they also are spread out. In general emergence takes place in spring and in late summer. To add to their importance the adults actually live for up to three months, unlike mayflies they feed during their adult phase, and the same female can have multiple periods of laying eggs. The nymphs are of most importance during the spring emergence and again during the summer emergence. But also when they hatch in the fall, indeed fishing the nymphs into early winter can be effective as their appetites grow. The warmer your climate the longer their activity continues. But the hearty damsel is never far from water’s edge, and shouldn’t be far from your fly box either.



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The Blog of Big Y Fly Co: Damsel Flies
Damsel Flies
The Blog of Big Y Fly Co
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